Huge Victory in D.C.: City Council Modernizes Name and Gender Change Procedures and Creates Model for the Country

Today the Washington, D.C. City Council passed a bill designed to reduce the burdens associated with getting a legal name change and updating gender markers on birth certificates. The bill, which passed unanimously, will make it safer and easier for transgender people to get their legal documents in line with their identity.

The new law has two major elements. The first will allow the city to issue an updated birth certificate after receiving a statement from a licensed health care provider stating that the individual has received appropriate treatment for a gender transition. The old rule required individuals to acquire proof of a surgical procedure and a court order, a next-to-impossible task for the large percentage of transgender people living in extreme poverty.

The law also eliminates the expensive publication requirement that required people seeking a name change to publish it in a newspaper for three consecutive weeks. The requirement risked outing transgender people, opening them to systematic discrimination. In addition, the bill allows people living in D.C. to go to court for updated birth certificate orders and gender change orders if required by their home state.

The Task Force’s Transgender Civil Rights Project, along with Andy Bowen of the D.C. Trans Coalition (DCTC), teamed up to advocate for introduction and passage of the bill over a year ago.

NTDS_coverThe Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality’s groundbreaking study, Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, revealed that only 24% of transgender respondents were able to change the gender marker on their birth certificates. Only 59% were able to update their driver’s license. Presenting incongruent documents is a serious risk for transgender people. Forty-four percent (44%) of respondents reported being harassed, assaulted, or asked to leave an establishment when doing so.

The bill was introduced by Councilmember David Catania (I-At Large), and nearly all of the remaining councilmembers either co-sponsored or co-introduced the bill. Dubbed the Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013, the law was named after a transgender woman who was stabbed and killed early last year. Passage of the bill comes after a string of violence towards transgender and gender nonconforming people in D.C. In the past month in five separate incidents, four transgender women and a gay man dressed in drag after a performance have been violently attacked. Two were shot and one was stabbed eleven times. Having incongruent identification documents can make it difficult to find employment, leading to high rates of homelessness and unemployment. One of the assaults occurred following a dispute over payment for sex. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 16% of transgender people have been forced into sex, drug, and other illegal work to find a way to earn an income. By easing the requirements for access to congruent documents, the new law will help to prevent outing and subsequent discrimination and violence toward transgender people.

Lisa Mottet, director of the Task Force’s Transgender Civil Rights Project, worked with Bowen to visit the City Council staff, provide memos about the importance of modernizing the process of gender marker changes, and give advice on the language of the bill. The Task Force is proud to have worked with DCTC and other community members on this tremendous leap forward for the D.C. trans community.

D.C. joins Oregon, California, Vermont, and Washington in modernizing birth certificate statutes and policies, as well as the federal government’s consular reports of births abroad issued to citizens born outside the U.S., in the last 5 years. The new statute catapults D.C. to the top spot in terms of having the best law or policy on birth certificates in the country.

Additional Resources

TransLAW of Washington’s Name and Gender Change Clinic

Why IDs are important